By Daniel Martin
“Holy Sh*t I’m going to die!” are words that have crossed my mind many, many times on my last two bike rides from London to Cape Town via the Middle East and from Korea to Cape Town via the Axis of Evil. I got shot at in Afghanistan, knocked off my bicycle (lots) by taxi drivers in South Africa, had a gun pulled on me in Egypt; I’ve cycled through +51 Celcius in the Sahara and -22 Celcius in Tibet; I’ve had frost bite, amoebic dysentery, I’ve broke ribs and snapped collar bones; I’ve been attacked by a mob and arrested for murder in Ethiopia but the closest I’ve been to death, I didn’t even realise it.
I’d cycled 18000miles from South Korea across Tibet and the Himalayas and been through North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Nigeria but it was in a small peaceful country called Gabon that it happened. I’d entered Gabon from Cameroon and had loved cruising through the first half of the country on decent roads winding through thick jungle dripping with all kinds of amazing wildlife. However on 15th September 2008 the good roads ran out, the forests had been cleared and stripped me of any shade and the huge trucks carrying the tree trunks out to be sold abroad dominated the mud roads.
That afternoon I arrived at a small town called Mouilla. I was exhausted and thought I had heat stroke. I found a hostel, took a cold shower and passed out on the bed. I woke up a few hours later feeling as if I was on fire. My forehead was roasting and my armpits and chest weren’t far behind on top of this I had the worst headache I’d ever had it literally felt as if my head was being split in two from the inside. I tried to get to the shower to cool off but was struck down with wave after wave of nausea. I’d packed a malaria test kit in my bag and now trying to read the small print and mix the right amounts of solution and blood was like torture. I waited ten minutes and it came back positive. I’d been told by all my mates in Kenya that you just take the pills and have a week off work and it’s not too bad so I thought I was being a baby. I took the pills lay in the cold shower and then passed out on the bed again. I’d set my alarm to wake up every four hours to take my pills and somehow got through the night.
I woke up at 8am and got it in my head that I needed to push on and cycle so I packed my bags, unable to stand up straight due to the agonising, throbbing pain tearing my head apart. I got the bike down stairs and set off. The next bit is a blur but I apparently got about two miles down the road and then passed out and crashed. I remember being surrounded by people, being put into a taxi, being worried about my bike being stolen and then sitting upright in a chair at the local hospital being asked for my passport in French by a rather portly African lady, I somehow had it in my hand and gave it to them.
They took my temperature in my mouth and it read 41 Celcius. 37 C is normal, above 40 C can give you brain damage and above 42 C is death. They didn’t believe the reading so took a reading in my armpit and then to my surprise bent me over and took one ‘internally’. They then all of a sudden lost their calm demeanour and rushed me into another room where they stabbed my arm with needles trying to get a line in – I’m not very veiny so it’s always tough. They then tied a rubber glove around my forearm and I could feel my wrist and arm throbbing, they eventually got a line in and as soon as it hit blood exploded everywhere all over the nurses, the floor, the roof, I passed out to a flurry of boobs and hair braids.
I woke up 7 hours later next to two dead ladies in intensive care being talked to by a Cuban doctor. He told me that my fever had come down and I was lucky to be alive! This was odd as I felt AMAZING! They’d given me some opiate derivative drugs and I felt like I could fly. He then went over how close to dying I’d been, I’d had cerebral malaria which can kill within 24hours and they’d used three times the usual dose of quinine along with other drugs to try and ‘bring me back’. This sent me into shock and I vomited all over myself. Classy, I know. I stayed there for four days and was looked after incredibly well. When I came to leave I paid the bill and all the drugs, food, lodging and care came to $15 USD!
It’s never the beautiful sunsets and stunning scenery that sticks out the most in a journey it’s the moments of blind panic and imminent danger that gets the blood pumping and carve themselves indelibly onto your memory!
“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.” — Natalie Babbitt
Writer’s Bio: Dan Martin cycled from London to Cape Town via the Middle East and the east coast of Africa in 2005-2006 and from Korea to Cape Town via the Axis of Evil and the west coast of Africa in 2007-2008. He is currently training for the Global Triathlon: a 3500miles swim from New York to France, an 8000 mile cycle from France to Fairbanks, Alaska and a 5500 mile run from Fairbanks to New York. You can find more details on his website: www.danmartinextreme.com and follow him on twitter here @danielmartinadv.
Torre DeRoche is the author of two travel memoirs, Love with a Chance of Drowning (2013) and The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World (due out September 2017). She has written for The Atlantic, The Guardian Travel, The Sydney Morning Herald, Emirates, and two Lonely Planet anthologies.